It is the day of the big event. I was able to sleep in because my age group wave was not until 1:20 which meant I did not have to be at athlete briefing until 1:00. I ate breakfast and spent the morning with my support crew (aka my friend and my kids) and they made cards for me and ensured my day was off to an extra special start for me. After I got dressed, I wanted to head over to the venue and see some of the waves before me go off so we walked out of our hotel room and were right there. Listening to Coach Pain give his motivational speech before each wave went off was so inspirational, and was different for each one. Soon it was time for me to head over to athlete briefing so I handed my ID badge over to my friend, kissed my kids, had a great big group hug and entered the briefing area. Soon after briefing I headed to the starting corral where they handed us our bands.
The women that surrounded me, my competitors, were all so supportive and we were giving high-5’s and wishing each other good luck. It didn’t matter what country you were from, we were all there for one reason…we earned it! As Coach Pain gave us our speech and reminded us of our journey. There was one particular phrase that still sticks with me and it was geared to the younger people that think we are “old”. He said “I am not old, I have been your age. You have to get to be mine”. It reminded me once more that life is a journey and is full of twists and turns. This race was more than a race for me; it was an accomplishment that I had worked so hard for. I had turned myself from a slow runner that failed so many obstacles at my first few races to a true competitor with some amazing athletes from around the world! Then I heard him say “ladies, conduct your business” and we were off!
As we raced up the first incline in a much larger group than the previous day, the hurdles were once again the first obstacle. This time I wasn’t able to go as fast over them because of the crowd so not tripping this time. Then came the first quarter pipe and it was already beginning to back up. As I waited my turn to take my first attempt at this obstacle, I was perplexed when I see a girl that didn’t even attempt the obstacle walk over and had the official cut her band. I really didn’t understand why so early on without even attempting the obstacle she would make such a decision, but it was hers to make so I just focused on me making it up the obstacle. After came the first barbed wire crawl of 2 followed by and a series of walls which included ramp and inverted styles and a 6’ wall before reaching Savage Race’s Pipe Dreams, all of which I completed on my first attempt.
Next up was this high slanted but still vertical type wall and on the first attempt you were unable to use the ropes but were allowed on the re-try lanes. I failed the first attempt but succeeded my first re-try using the ropes. Next was Traction and Q-Steps which I breezed through. Then it was time to do Toughest’s Dragon’s Back once again, only now it was covered in so much more mud than the previous day which made me a little nervous I would slip. I climbed up the wall and made it to the top and the girl next to me didn’t make it and at first I thought she hit her face as she fell to the ground, but she said she was ok and got up and tried it again. Of course witnessing this made me a little nervous, so I just took a deep breath and leaped and made it. Then without hesitation I did it again and completed the obstacle.
As I ran down the hill, I honestly dreaded the Samurai Rig as I could still feel the pain in my right knee from hurting it on that exact obstacle the day before. When I approached it, it was roped off and I can’t say I was sad not to have to attempt it again. After passing a few walls, I ran down the hill into the main festival area where the first Platinum Rig was located and noticed that they had changed the configuration from the race the day before. I took some time to watch how others were doing it before I took my first attempt. I made it halfway through, but the thick metal lateral pole was not easy to grab, so I fell then headed to the retry lane. My second attempt I made it so close to the end, but fell just before completing it so I headed back to the retry lane and tried it for a third time. This time I didn’t make it very far at all before falling off. My grip was starting to fail me, my shoulder was starting to hurt and my hands were becoming very tender. I made a fourth attempt and when I fell at the exact same point as my third attempt, I decided to have the officials cut my band and continue on.
Up the rock wall I climbed and onto the Wreck Bag Carry. I grabbed my 50 pound sandbag, frustrated that I had my band cut, and really pushed up the mountain passing several people around me. I went over the Wreck Bag Steps, around the rest of the marked out area, back over the steps, then ran down the hill with the bag on my back the entire time. After putting the Wreck Bag back into the pile, I ran around the corner, over the 8’ wall with ease, flew through the tube crossing, ran up and conquered the Warrior Dash Pipeline on my first attempt, hopped over another 8’ wall and while I was running under the gondola, I heard “Go Mommy! Go Melissa!” It was my friend and children in the gondola and they passed right over me. I stopped and waved to them, blew kisses, and kept running. Seeing them made me feel so wonderful inside!
As I started running up the hill, there was the second barbed wire crawl and net crawl and I could hear support system at the top of the mountain cheering for me. I flew those obstacles and when I got to the top, I gave my kids kisses and headed to Skull Valley. When I saw this obstacle the day before, I realized how far apart the skulls were and wondered how, with my short wing span, was I going to make this obstacle? As I climbed up the first ring and tried to reach the first skull, I was nowhere near close enough to reach it. Then the volunteer told me to get down and try taking a big swing and grabbing on, so I did and was able to reach it (barely) so I had to readjust my grip as I was hanging there. Then I began to swing, one skull to the next. I could feel my hands burning but I kept going and made it to the rope section. I took a short break on the first rope and strategized how to make it across the other ones. One by one I conquered the ropes section. Hearing my support system cheering for me I knew I had to push and not let go. Then it was time to go back to swinging on the skulls, on this time they were on opposite sides of the board and further apart. I climbed up the rope as high as I could and grabbed the first skull and as I went to swing to the next one, I realized that I was nowhere near able to reach the next skull. Trying not to fall and perhaps head back to the rope I just came from to try it again, suddenly I fell to the ground feeling this intense burning on my right hand and when I looked at my hand I realized it was bleeding a lot.
I was trying not to show that I was in pain in front of my kids, especially when they were saying “Mommy, you are bleeding so much you don’t have to go on”. The volunteer came over and told me that I needed to step to the side and they were going to call the medics. Afraid that they were going to pull me, I begged him not to call them, just find something I could stop the bleeding. He said that when medics got there, they would assess my injury and because it was “minor” if I showed signs of being able to continue, they would llow me to go ahead. It took medics over 15 minutes to come because they were busy and I was not considered an emergency. I took the time to hang out with my friend and children and tried to stop the bleeding myself, but couldn’t. The medic came, cleaned the wound (which burned really bad) and then he used gauze bandage to wrap my hand and asked me a few questions, then let me continue. At this point, another 15 minutes had gone by and I knew I needed to make up some time and the line for the Platinum Rig 2 was so long and my hand was throbbing, so I took my penalty and headed off and continued the race.
The next obstacle I encountered was the weaver, which is where you have to go over one set of 2×4 planks and then under the next set and so on as they went up to a peak, then do the same back down. There was quite a significant back up at this obstacle so I was able to watch some others as they successfully completed it. When it was my turn, immediately after my first “under” portion I realized that this was going to pull on my knee and not be easy, but I continued up and over and completed it on the first attempt. Next up were some Over-Unders and they came the Dead End Race Warped Wall. This was a very high quarter pipe with a little metal rope type part to grab on and pull yourself up and over the wall portion. I attempted this obstacle three times and all three times I grabbed the pole, but would slide off because of the gauze on my hand. My final attempt I tried to grab it with my left hand, but my knee buckled backwards and I fell from the top down the wall and decided to take my penalty and move on. At that point I realized just how difficult the rest of the obstacles were going to be without the use of my right hand and began to get down on myself.
Next up was the Big Wall and the second quarter pipe, which I was able to get over successfully the first time so that made me feel a little better. That was until I got to the Stairway to Heaven. I would make it up the one side and had to hold on with basically my right fingertips so my forearms were burning, but when I would attempt the transition to the other side to make my way down; I would slip and fall off. I was regretting not bringing gloves as I was unable to remove the gauze, nor could I grip anything with my right hand. I was growing very frustrated at this point and wondered how I was going to even be able to do the obstacles towards the end that were difficult enough the day before with two good hands.
Then next few obstacles were somewhat easy for me and we did a lot of trail running, which included parts of the mountain biking section so there were these wood plank areas that were raised and we had to run up, over, and some were sideways. The trails were beautiful and I was starting to feel a little better having made the next 6 obstacles, including the slip wall and rope climb. After some more trail running, it was time to head back down to the main area where I knew that most of the obstacles were required the use of my upper body and both hands, so I grew nervous thinking about how I was going to complete them.
When I arrived at the Dead End Race Monkey Bars, which I had done with ease the day before, I completed the monkey bar portion relatively easily but my hand was definitely hurting a lot at this point and I could see the blood coming through the gauze. When I arrived at the second portion, the lateral poles, I made it to the end, but slipped off before my feet touch the end plank so I had to repeat the obstacle. I slipped off at the exact same point the second time. On my third attempt, I tapped my foot on the board on the way down and the official counted it as completion. My right hand was now throbbing and so unbelievably sore and now my left hand was getting very tender. Next up was the Irish Table, which I breezed over the day before but today that was not the case. I had zero grip and my frustration was starting to take over. I tried over and over to get my body up over the obstacle but it seemed that no matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t. I took a break and let others go ahead of me. My kids and friend were telling me to just go on, but I was being stubborn and I would not quit. I felt tears coming and my mind was telling me “you can’t do this; you are failing in front of your kids”. I actually said “I can’t do this out loud” and my friend yelled at me, “You would never accept that word from us now get that word out of your head and do this!” I tried one more time and fell on my back, knocking the wind out of me. I got up, took my penalties and headed on to the floating walls.
The floating walls was one of my favorite obstacles from the day before and I went through them relatively quickly, however today was much different. I would make it to the third wall on the highest point and I fell right on my back narrowly missing hitting my head. I heard my kids gasp and my friend asked if I was ok. I brushed myself off, got up and tried it again and fell in the exact same spot, only this time I tried to hold on so tight so I didn’t fall and fail again in front of my kids that not only did I fall on my back and hurt it, but I ripped my left hand now too. The blood started pouring out of my hand and I heard the volunteer tell me that I needed to go to the side and wait for medic. I was officially crushed. I knew that if I waited for medic I would just either be pulled off or waste another 30 minutes and knowing exactly what obstacles were next, I asked my friend for a tissue and she had a paper towel so I covered the blood so it didn’t get on the obstacles and continued on knowing the end was near.
With tears in my eyes and my children telling me they were proud of me and to not get upset, I just walked ahead taking the next 2 penalties in a row because I knew there was no way with no grip left and bloody hands I could complete the Skyline or the Urban Sky. I choked back tears as I approached the final obstacle, the Finish Ramp Wall. I ran, grabbed the rope with my gauzed hand and then quickly grabbed the rope with my hand that had the paper towel on it and just kept climbing. What is usually so easy with no grip was so hard. I kept slipping back, but as much as it hurt I refused to fail one more time. I HAD to get over this wall and finish. I swung my leg up and latched my foot at the top of the wall and somehow pulled myself over.
As I climbed down and headed towards the finish line, I could hear strangers chanting “Go USA!!!” and heard the announcer say “here comes USA, all bloody and wrapped up but she is going to finish” and I hear my kids yelling “Go Mommy!!!” and my friend yelling “Come on Melissa, you got this!” And with all of those encouraging words, I choked back the tears as much as I could, crossed the finish line, accepted my medal, then found my support team and broke down. I started crying and repeating how I had failed in front of my children but my kids insisted that they saw me in pain and trying my best and I they didn’t see me as failing obstacles, they saw me as fighting through pain and not giving up until I knew it was needed to be done. They reminded me how they wanted me to stop when I got hurt the first time but I refused to give up.
While I may have failed more obstacles than I hoped and I didn’t finish with my band, I know I gave that course EVERYTHING I had to give that day. When I look back and reminisce about that race while I am of course frustrated that I failed some obstacles and didn’t keep my band, I have no doubt that I pushed myself as hard as I could. If I had use of my hands, perhaps the outcome would be different, but as I type this post my hands are still healing almost 3 weeks later and my knee is still hurting.
After the race, my hotel room was just a short walk away so I cleaned up and we headed out to celebrate. We chose to eat in one of the many restaurants the village had to offer and it was a great evening. We got a bottle of wine at one of the bars in the village and took it back to the room so we could all relax and get ready for our long ride home the next day. Soon after it was off to sleep and our journey home would begin.
We ended up leaving the resort later than we originally planned and it was raining. On our way home we made a few pit stops including stopping at Watkins Glens. It was amazing. We arrived there around 5:30 and in Canada the night before it didn’t get dark until 7, but it seemed like when we got to the end of the trail it was getting dark and it was 6:30. Since the shuttle to our parking lot stopped running at 6:00, we had to walk back. Rather than risk taking the same trail and slipping on the rocks, we found the “Indian Trail” and decided to try that one. We walked at a pretty brisk pace and came to a fork in the trail and thank goodness decided to keep right (which was the right way to go) since it was closest to the water. We passed a very old cemetery and the sun was going down fast. By the time we reached the end of the trail, it was pitch black! We headed back in the car and it started raining again. We made one last stop to eat at Friendly’s on the way home and arrived home at almost midnight.
Looking back, everything about this experience was amazing. From the support I received in the months leading up to the race, to the road trip leading up the race. From having my close friend and children there, to having strangers cheer you on and say “Go USA!” I truly feel blessed and fortunate to have had this experience. It is hard to explain, but in a way it changed me. It made me look at things a little differently now in some ways. It made me so utterly proud to have represented my and reminded me of the wonderful journey it has taken to achieve my qualifying spot.
I have such an incredible support system. THANK YOU to everyone that supported me along the way. I would have never dreamed that this would have been possible a few years ago. I share my stories with you all because I know that it is not easy. It takes had work. It takes sacrifice. It takes support, which sometimes does not come from where we hope. It comes from consistency and persistence. But most of all, it comes from the fire within that burns that reminds us that we have one life to live and why not make it a great life by balancing it out with achieving your goals and dreams.
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” – Norman Vincent Peale